Tetris Effect is the best Tetris game since Tetris DS1. It’s loosely based on the phenomenon where people see Tetris blocks after playing in their thoughts and dreams. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mind behind Rez and Lumines, had wanted for years to make a Tetris game. He finally got the chance, and it was worth the wait. Tetris Effect uses some of the same design choices of Rez and Lumines in an effort to provoke synesthesia.
Tetris Effect intelligently doesn’t shake up the core of Tetris, but instead embraces it entirely. It’s how everything is presented with love and care that makes Tetris Effect an experience.
It’s The Journey Not the Destination
The main campaign of Tetris Effect is called Journey Mode. It’s definitely a journey and I recommend completing it in one or two sessions if you have the time.
In Journey Mode, the player goes through several scenes where the music, visuals, and sound effects all revolve around a certain theme, such as skimming the ocean surface with dolphins, serenity with windmills, a pilgrimage through the desert, or a jazz infused cityscape. Each scene is its own plane of unique existence. It’s mesmerizing.
Tetris has never been considered a visually appealing series. It’s remained fairly basic. Blocks. Colors2. Tetris Effect is the first game in the series that really pushes visuals into the spotlight. Tetrominos remain in their basic shapes and configurations3, but the colors, textures, and blocks change to fit the scene. Sometimes the blocks will be multicolored and other times they will be monochromatic.
After a certain number of lines are cleared, the screen changes and the player is warped to a new scene. Every scene builds slowly. Some start off quietly, and after a number of lines are cleared, the scene will change and build upon itself. New instrumentations, vocals, beats, and flashier visuals are introduced.
The default view of Tetris Effect has the playing field zoomed out4 so that the scene wraps around everything else. I recommend playing this way the first time as it enhances the effect5.
Don’t Zone Out, Zone In
Tetris Effect doesn’t change the core of Tetris, with one exception: Zone. The Zone mechanic is exclusive to Journey Mode. Over the course of clearing lines, a Zone meter fills up. Zone can be activated by pressing a trigger on the controller. Once activated, time stops. Lines can be cleared, but instead of disappearing, they move to the bottom of the screen. The goal of entering Zone is to clear as many lines as possible to achieve, essentially, a “super Tetris” – such as a Dodecatris6. Clearing the entire playfield will give you the coveted and elusive Ultimatris.
While in Journey Mode, the progression is measured by clearing a set number of lines – however, lines cleared in Zone do not count toward this counter, but the score is. So an advanced way to maximize your score is to build up the playfield and activate Zone before you reach the quota.
This is definitely one of the most interesting gameplay ideas ever introduced to Tetris in its 30 year history. It feels so natural to Tetris. It’s a shame it isn’t available in other modes.
The Journey Is Just Beginning
After Journey Mode is completed, the rest of the game opens up with several other modes. This includes traditional Marathon and Line Clear modes, as well as several others. The modes are separated into categories like Classic, Chill, and Adventurous.
In the Adventurous category, you’ll find Mystery Mode. Mystery Mode is especially challenging; for every few lines cleared, a new wrench is thrown into gameplay such as inverting the playfield7, only giving the player square tetrominos, and more. I finally completed the 150 lines and felt like I accomplished something, but I only got a C rating, which means there is always room for improvement.
In the Chill8 category, the games do not end when the stack reaches the ceiling. Instead, the board clears and the player can continue playing until they clear all the lines, or until they quit. This is great for one reason in particular: it allows the player to build up to a speed level and continue playing at that level as practice. So for example, maybe you are good until level 9, but then it becomes just too fast. In Chill, you can keep trying without fear of a Game Over screen.
Every mode has its own leaderboard and rating so you can chase a high score for yourself, with friends, or against the world.
The other modes also allow the player to choose a scene or a playlist of scenes. This allows you to select your favorite and stick with it. My favorite scene is called Forest Dawn. It’s set against a rainy forest backdrop with subtle music and nature sounds. The only thing missing is a hint of petrichor.
Other customizations are available to tailor the experience as well. The hold slot9 can be toggled on or off. The tetromino colors can resemble more traditional colors, bypassing the current scene selection for visual clarity. The playfield default zoom can be set. There are plenty of options to mold the game to whatever is most comfortable, which makes it really inviting.
I really wanted to experience the VR aspect of Tetris Effect before I formalized my opinion10 for the game overall. It may just be me, or it could be the current state of VR technology11, but it didn’t radically change my opinion of the game. It was definitely more focused than playing on a TV, but overall it wasn’t any better or worse. It’s definitely worth experiencing once, but it didn’t sell me on the VR prospect as much as I was anticipating.
A Tetris Classic
I haven’t been this swooned by a Tetris release in years1213. I love this game. It inspires me to play more Tetris. There are only two downsides of this game: it has no multiplayer component, and it’s only available on a Playstation 414. The lack of multiplayer is acceptable. This is a personal version of Tetris, and the more intense nature of competitive Tetris would detract from this game’s mission statement. But it’s not necessarily a game enjoyed alone. When I played a few times with others in the room, everyone was silently engaged with the puzzle game spectacle taking place.
This is a landmark game in the series. The game sets this in stone with a hidden secret: a new scene based off the classic Game Boy version, complete with the music you’ve had ingrained in your memory from when you were younger.
If you’ve ever met me and video games were a discussion topic then you’ll know that I deeply adore Tetris. I’ve always felt that Tetris was the purest video game ever created.
No one version of Tetris supplants the others as each is unique. Some may scoff at new features like being able to hold pieces, or being able to rotate pieces after they’ve touched the playing field, but I assure you Tetris is only as difficult as your skill level. There is no end and the sky is the limit.
With the release of Tetris Effect on PS41, I thought I’d share some links that I’ve come across that tell the story of Tetris, show the evolution of Tetris, and some other nibbly bits in there as well.2
2017 was a bountiful year for all gamers. There was no shortage of games new or old to play. This year I’ve decided rather than creating a top five, or a top ten list, to compile a list of the games I played this year in 2017 and what I have to say about each.
When compiling this list, I realized how much I really did play this year compared to past year. In a way my love of gaming found a resurgence, not that it ever went away.
A few of these games I finished, most I have not1. Most of these games came out in 2017 however there are few that have been out for a year or two.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I can’t remember the last time a game like this launched with any console. Twilight Princess launched with the Wii2 but it wasn’t nearly this vast in scope, hype, or critical reception. I wrote about how excited I was for Breath of the Wild:
now on the eve of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild I see the Zelda game I’ve been wanting since I played A Link to the Past: a vast world by today’s gaming standards and a return to exploration and finding out things on your own
Breath of the Wild fulfilled this hype. It surpasses every 3D Zelda game I’ve ever played by leaps and bounds. I played this game for nearly 120 hours straight. I haven’t finished everything yet, because I don’t want to wear it out. I want to return to it like a pair of beloved comfortable jeans. If I had to pick a game of the year3, it would be this game.
NPCs4 in Zelda games are usually pretty boring. But in Breath of the Wild I wanted to talk to every villager and passerby. They all had an interesting thing to say. If it wasn’t something funny, they would tell you an interesting piece of what to find in this version of Hyrule. This is easily one of the most humorous Zelda games outside of Wind Waker.
Even though I love this game, there are some things I wish they could have incorporated into the game. I miss the unique items that had multiple uses. The runes in the game (magnesis, stasis, & cryonis specifically) are great, but they weren’t nearly as functional as the hookshot or other relics from past games. But they did make the bow indispensable comparatively, so this is obviously a nitpick.
I was hoping that some of shrines would be more labyrinthian and the Devine Beasts puzzles differed in quality by a good margin5.
However, the story in the game really resonated with me. In this world, Link failed 100 years ago. Ganon won. It reminded me of A Link to the Past. In that game, once Link gained the Master Sword he ventured to Hyrule Castle, broke down the barrier of evil, defeated a gauntlet of soldiers, and faced the wizard Agahnim to rescue Zelda. After he defeated Agahnim, the wizard scoffed at Link and banished him to the Dark World only to find a land in despair where evil was about to win. The journey, so to speak, had only just begun. Link’s failure in Breath of the Wild makes the progress in the game that much more meaningful. It’s basically a Rocky montage of building Link’s resolve to face Ganon for the final countdown. This is even more powerful since the player can go fight Ganon at any point in the game. Everyone can appreciate the electric charge of a good montage.
The gameplay of Breath of the Wild is so much more fun than any 3D Zelda before it. Exploration is the foundation of which this game is built and nearly always rewards the player. Combat has strategy and consequences. Hyrule, as expansive as it is, feels hand-crafted and lived in. It feels like a world in ruin.
There is so much more to speak about on this game that has already been said678. It is a modern day masterpiece and one of the reasons I am a diehard Nintendo fan. Breath of the Wild enters into my coveted Top Three Zelda Games of All Time.9
One last note: Breath of the Wild has one of the best trailers for a game ever. It even has its own soaring orchestrated arrangement that’s not found in the game10. Whether you’ve played the game or not, the trailer is always worth a watch.
Specter of Torment (Shovel Knight)
The treasure that is Shovel Knight keeps on giving. Specter of Torment is a prequel campaign telling the more somber story of how Specter Knight came to be. Even though this is just a 2D retro platformer, the story still pulls on some heartstrings.
The player assumes the role of Specter Knight and his quest to gather The Order of No Quarter. This is the Mega Man X of Shovel Knight. The gameplay is so fast and frantic compared to Plague Knight’s campaign, Plague of Shadows. I played through this in a matter of a day or two. The fact that this launched the same day as Breath of the Wild should show you how much I love Shovel Knight. I made time for this.
Instead of remixed levels as in Plague of Shadows there are all new levels and music11. The attention to detail and callbacks to the other two campaigns are the icing on this cake. This could be a standalone game and it would be great, but it’s just presented as an add-on to Shovel Knight. There is one more campaign left for Shovel Knight: King of Cards starring King Knight releases in 2018. If we can expect this level of quality in the new campaign this game deserves to be recognized on a whole new tier.
Cuphead is a retro game in both art and style. At its core, it’s a run and gun12gauntlet of challenges. It brings some modern influences to gameplay, but otherwise it’s an old school game.
Cuphead’s charming art is the drive to keep playing. Every level, every character, every background is all hand drawn animation inspired by 1930s cartoons specifically Max Fleischer’s animation works. Hand drawn animation is a dying art, but this game pays homage in the best way. But while the art is top notch, it wouldn’t be fun without solid hardcore arcade level gameplay. This game is hard, but it’s not because of cheap tricks. Once you understand enemy patterns and practice levels several times it’s a blast, and seeing what’s next is the fun.
Sonic the Hedgehog and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve never enjoyed Sonic on the same level as Mario games13, but Sonic games were my favorite platformer games on the Sega Genesis. I never found the design of Sonic the Hedgehog levels as elegant as any levels of any game developed by Nintendo. Sonic Mania fixes everything that I didn’t find fun in Sonic. The level design is stellar, the music is JAMMIN’ and this game is my favorite in the Sonic series by far. The fact this was done outside of Sonic Team will hopefully send the message to Sega to make more.
Nex Machina is an arcade dual stick shooter game from Housemarque, who made the amazing Resogun. Resogun was very much a modern interpretation of the classic arcade game Defender. Nex Machina is in turn a modern interpretation of Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. Robotron 2084 is my favorite old school arcade game. It’s a game of manageable chaos where robots are the enemy and the player is the savior of humanity.
When Housemarque announced they had partnered with Eugene Jarvis, the creator of Defender, Robotron 2084, and Smash TV, my hopes were high. Arcade games14 are a dying breed that were briefly resurrected with the advent of digital distribution. They aren’t for everyone, but sometimes working towards a high score can be really fulfilling as skills are honed and muscle memory forms.
To me, Nex Machina is perfect game. It has solid controls, tons of mechanics, enemies, power ups, secrets, and a killer soundtrack. I love picking up this game and just blasting through robots for 10-15 minutes. I can’t recommend this game enough if you want an old school experience without the old school frustration. Since this game wasn’t published by Sony, there’s a glimmer of hope that this could make it to the Nintendo Switch at some point.
I only played Nier: Automata for about 5 hours. I can say this isn’t your normal action game from Platinum Games, but it does have some of that DNA in a game more focused on story. The world and music are really good. I need to finish this game in 2018.
ARMS is fun. There was a general dismissal that this game was Wii Boxing for the Switch, but I assure you it’s not. It’s a fighting game that you can play without motion controls. Unlike a button masher with combos, each punch, block, and grab are deliberate and require patience and skill.
The character designs and world are bright and fun. Nintendo has ended its updates at the end of 2017, but over the course of six months it added several new features, characters, and stages which kept the game fresh.
This game is a fun fighting game – at least until Smash arrives on the Switch.
Splatoon 215 is Splatoon refined with a little less magic. I love Splatoon, but this really felt like Splatoon 1.5 as opposed to Splatoon 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sad thing is that the online with friends options weren’t much improved from the first one. Nintendo is still trying to figure out how the Internet works.
Snake Pass is the go to game if you want to know what it’s like to be a snake. It’s a fun game with a bunch of charm but it’s not for everyone. The controls are intuitive but have a steep learning curve. Being a snake is hard. This game is very chill and cute. It has music from David Wise, one of my favorite composers.
Nidhogg is one of those game I find hard to describe to people. It is a 1v1 2D tug of war fencing game. There, I guess I did it.
Nidhogg 2 expands on everything the first game had by adding new weapons, rule sets, and several new stages.
The biggest difference in Nidhogg 2 is the change in art style. The first game was more of a minimalist expression in 8 bit pixel art. It was very soothing. Nidhogg 2 goes for more of a grotesque 16-bit vibe reminiscent of Earthworm Jim. Some found this change enough to turn them off of the game. I don’t mind it. It certainly doesn’t take away from the gameplay which is the most important aspect of the game.
This is a fun game to pick up and play with someone else in short bits, or long extended runs. It’s also a great spectator game in my experience.
Flinthook is one of my favorite indie games of 2017. It’s a roguelike platformer in which you use a hookshot-like grappling gun to navigate space pirate16 ships17searching for booty and a bounty. I found it fun and very challenging. There is a leveling system that adds modifiers and abilities that keep the gameplay of starting over and over fresh. I love the 16-bit aesthetic and the adventurous soundtrack. If this came to the Nintendo Switch I’d be a happy bounty hunter.18
Great fighting game and one of the best DC movies you can watch. It’s mind-boggling how a fighting game understands the characters and their history and relationships better than the movies have.
Super Mario Odyssey
I never loved Super Mario 64 the way some people did. That isn’t to say I didn’t like it a lot. I had a dream long before the Nintendo 64 was a reality of a 3D Mario game. The game in my dream was more along the lines of Super Mario 3D World. I guess my imagination was a bit shallow.
But Super Mario 64 did shake up nearly everything that made a Mario game a Mario game. What always bothered me was how different the world and enemies felt from the previous Mario games. Later, 3D Mario games would eventually pull in more elements of the Mushroom Kingdom into the fold but with that came more linearity, and less exploration diversity with more focus on platforming.
BAM! Enter Super Mario Odyssey. It’s everything people wanted but didn’t get with Super Mario 3D World19.
– Freedom: Go where you want, do what you want
– Exploration: YOU GOT IT
– Timers: Gone
– Lives: Gone
– Power-Ups: EVERY ENEMY IS ITS OWN POWERUP
– Diverse Worlds: How about a motherlovin’ DRAGON or NEW DONK CITY
– But Bowser is boring: Now he’s SWAG BOWSER™20
– Plus so much more21…
I feel like if there were any stops for a Mario game, they pulled them all out for this one. It’s so much fun. I hope we see more kingdoms either as part of DLC or a sequel. While not everyone loved Sunshine, and Galaxy wasn’t for everyone either, Odyssey2223 takes everything Mario has learned over the past 30 years, and makes it all feel remarkable once again.
Fire Emblem Heroes & Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Nintendo’s mobile games are demonstrating to be less than thrilling for me. In the instance of Fire Emblem Heroes it instead inspired me to go back and play Fire Emblem Awakening. While a pick up and play version of Fire Emblem sounds good on paper I was unhappy to see it infused with the mobile game tropes (RNG in game loot boxes, cool downs, etc.) I think it’s a good introduction to the basics of Fire Emblem, but I’d rather play one of the many mainline games even if that means carrying a Nintendo 3DS with me.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp seems even worse. I’ve never been a direct fan of the series, more from a distance. I understand the appeal of the mainline series but Pocket Camp seems like a punch in the face to fans. It suffers even more with the mobile game “standards”. You can pay in game currency to make things happen faster, including making fruit grow on trees faster. While all of this is optional it doesn’t seem as “chill” as the mainline series. Plus, I chose my “chill” game this year with Stardew Valley.
Stardew Valley is my zen garden. It is my meditation. It is where I find balance. I haven’t been much of a fan of games like Harvest Moon, or Animal Crossing. But Stardew Valley has those 16-bit graphics I have a weakness for, a very relaxing soundtrack, and a world that’s deeper and more mysterious than it lets on in the beginning.
The game starts with your grandpa leaving you the deed to a farm in the titular Stardew Valley. You’ve had it with your tedious cubicle humdrum life, so you move where life is a bit slower and you have control on your livelihood. It’s a bit cliched, but it suits this game’s intentions perfectly.
I’ve sunk over 50 hours into Stardew Valley, and every moment has been relaxing. Yeah, you have to farm and water plants, but you can also fish, mine, or adventure. Nothing in Stardew Valley feels random or fluffed. The main actions of chopping trees, planting seed, or mining ore all feel solid and fun even though they are repetitive. They feel like swinging a sword in A Link to the Past or using the shovel in Shovel Knight.
The progress in the game is perfectly suited to playing it for a few minutes or a few hours.
I love the town, the inhabitants, the music, the trees, the subtle sound design. Stardew Valley is the video game world I would want to live in.
Undertale is one of those games everyone talked about for an entire year. That year was 2015 to 2016. And Undertale was only a PC game. I didn’t have a PC in 201524. I waited until it came to PS4 last year. I’m about halfway through at the time of this writing.
Undertale is special. It’s a game that is focused on a story and a message. Even though I haven’t finished the game yet, I know that this game will be highly regarded in 10 years. The presentation is timeless.
I really don’t want to spoil anything about this game for those who may not play it for years. I’ll just say it is unconventional.
Undertale, like Stardew Valley25 was made by one person as a labor of love , and it absolutely shows.
This GIF sums up everything great about the game:
What Pulled Me Back In
These games came to the Nintendo Switch and made me play them all over again.
This is the most Nintendo-like FPS not made by Nintendo. If you enjoy good single player FPS campaigns, I can’t recommend this enough. The graphics did take a hit compared to other platforms but once the action starts it’s hardly noticeable26.
Having Rocket League available whenever and wherever has allowed for me to play it more than I ever did on any other console. The wireless local play functionality makes it even better to setup some 2v2 sports ball on the go.
Other Assorted Games I Played
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Jamboree
Jackbox Party Pack 4
Blaster Master Zero
2017 Was A Year To Remember
2017 kicked my butt with how much there was to play. 2018 is already looking to match it.
I intend to write more regularly about what I play in 2018 because writing this was a time consuming affair.
Seriously. The already amazing Shovel Knight soundtrack gets a stellar new take from Jake Kaufman who makes it feel new all over again. The Pridemoor Keep track is all cheery and majestic before King Knight has taken over compared to how it sounds in Shovel Knight where is his reign is complete. ↩
Callbacks to Mario 64 with the Mushroom Kingdom, every costume referencing some past iteration of Mario, those cute little 2D showcases where the music changes to 8bit, everything about New Donk City, & that ENDING! ↩
If you’re looking for list on this for me, my Mario appreciation defies lists since there is so much variety in the series. ↩
Fine! Odyssey > Sunshine > Galaxy 2 > Galaxy > 64
Does not include Super Mario 3D Land or World which are more like 2D Mario games and should be judged on those merits. ↩